With the upcoming fall semester fast approaching, the University of North Carolina Wilmington has elected a new interim chief diversity officer for the university. Dr. Donyell Roseboro, a professor at the Watson College of Education, has stepped in to expand diversity and inclusion efforts in the spirit of collective work and responsibility at the university. This will be her 14th year at the institution.
Aside from being a professor and graduate program coordinator, Dr. Roseboro served for three years as director of Watson’s Professional Development System (PDS), three years as a department chair, and just over a year as an associate dean of students. Prior, Dr. Roseboro was an integral part of the launch of the university’s laboratory school, D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy. Since her arrival at UNCW in 2007, she has partnered with hundreds of K-12 schools across southeastern North Carolina, strengthening the divide between the university and surrounding communities.
Dr. Kent Guion began his post with the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion (OIDI) in 2015 and has since taken on a faculty position at the College of Health and Human Services. In a statement sent out on July 14, Chancellor Sartarelli praised Dr. Guion’s contributions during his tenure: expanding OIDI’s programming and resources between two identity centers, adding mentoring programs for college and high school students; drumming up support and funds for diversity scholarships; cultivating community collaborations like Cape Fear Region Minority Enterprise Development Week and DNA Discussion Project. Sartarelli also cites “strong graduation rates among Black students, received Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Awards from Insight Into Diversity in 2017 and 2018.”
“Under Dr. Roseboro’s leadership,” he continues. “I’m confident that OIDI will help the university take an even more in-depth and determined approach with the programs we are developing and will soon announce to address concerns about systemic racism expressed by students, faculty, staff and alumni.”
Dr. Roseboro affirms she will continue ongoing discussions about diversity, equality and equity transparent for UNCW faculty, staff and students, as calls for justice and accountability continue to come in amid the university’s payout for Mike Adams’ early retirement, as well as Chancellor Sartarelli’s own gaffe during a June Town Hall meeting; his “all lives matter” comment was at best tone-deaf to an audience of Black student leaders, including the Black Student Leadership Coalition, African American Graduate Association, Black Faculty & Staff Association and others.
Nevertheless, Dr. Roseboro says she is already seeing reform.
“From those meetings, the chancellor, provost, and cabinet have started work on addressing the needs identified and have initiated a timeline to hold the university accountable,” she says. “I was thus encouraged last week to hear the chancellor unequivocally state at an open faculty meeting that Black lives matter and our faculty senate president reiterated that belief at a board of trustees meeting.”
As a Black woman and educator, Dr. Roseboro says she draws strength from hope instilled in her upbringing. She points to her grandmothers’ struggles during segregation as powerful reminders of the steps moving forward in 2020.
“They endured, they fought back, and they lived with dignity despite the horrific racism they faced,” Dr. Roseboro explains. “They had white neighbors who helped them, but I know without a doubt they expected better lives for their children and grandchildren. They were Black women who gave their lives in the hope that their sacrifice would matter. I know, personally, that Black lives matter. Perhaps most important, my grandmothers raised us to face life with courage and a spirit of forgiveness.”
During a time of growth for UNCW, Dr. Roseboro’s new position offers insight into how the OIDI can provide a place for students and faculty members to become better allies. As she meets with her OIDI team and senior leadership across campus, Dr. Roseboro says her immediate plan of action is to listen first before ultimately establishing a set of guiding principles and strategic diversity plan for the university.
“What seems clear from the needs articulated thus far is that we need those guiding principles to provide collective clarity and purpose in our daily work,” she details. “Our journey from this point forward must be purposeful, diligent and focused. We have some truths to face with respect to institutionalized racism in the country and at this institution. My job is to help build the infrastructure to make sure that history is confronted consistently so that all students, staff, faculty and community members who engage with our institution believe in our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Every institution may be imperfect, but we can consistently do the work to hear, learn, and dismantle structures that exclude or diminish those from particular identities.”
Another immediate goal is to improve OIDI’s online presence and access. Rosonboro is already working with the Office of University Relations to redesign their web page and more.
“If I have learned anything in my 13 years on this campus and in other leadership roles, it is that we are often so busy doing the work that we do not have time to narrate that work in ways that are easily accessible and consistently updated,” Dr. Roseboro comments. “If we are to sustain and extend the work of diversity and inclusion, we must find ways to expand our collective force and, given the current pandemic, we must do that digitally.”
While Dr. Roseboro’s first day at her new post began July 20, she hesitates to speculate on programming the university will choose to implement or expand on. However, with the start of the upcoming fall semester only four weeks away, Dr. Roseboro is looking ahead to what can be done to support the 2,000-plus students of color, as well as the LGBTQ+ student body. While it is crucial students of color have access to these resources, as a predominately white institution, Dr. Roseboro says it also is important this office helps cultivate better allies in non-POC students, faculty and staff. Conversations have already taken place discussing the abundant need for the university to create a set of clearly prioritized goals for diversity, inclusion, and a transparent decision-making structure that includes students, staff, faculty and community stakeholders.
“I will say though there are many things already in the works I look forward to developing, with the guidance and input from our students, staff, faculty and community,” Dr. Roseboro comments. “We are here to support the mission of the university. We invite you to help us expand our diversity and inclusion efforts.”
For more information on UNCW’s Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, visit uncw.edu/diversity.